See You In January, See You Tomorrow

by Rakuten Kobo’s CEO, Michael Tamblyn

Rakuten Kobo is giving staff the option of staying remote/WFH for the rest of 2020 in our Toronto, Dublin, Darmstadt & Taipei offices. Way back in early March, making the call to go remote for 2 weeks seemed momentous. Now, extending 7 months seems bizarrely normal.

But we are also trying to create some office space in the near future for members of the Kobo crew who want/need some non-home space to work in. Some have small apartments, drummer roommates or bad connectivity. Having a second space where work happens is critical for them. For all kinds of reasons, it would be a mistake to assume everybody wants to work from home all the time.

The things we like most about coming to work are the hardest to do in a post-COVID, pre-vaccine world

The little bit of heartbreak is knowing that while we can provide space that is safe and sanitized within an inch of its life, the post-COVID, pre-vaccine office is going to be a weird experience. People spread out, masks, no coming together in common areas, and if we are very creative, we can get maybe 25–30% of people back in the office under current guidelines. (We won’t start anywhere near that.) It’s going to feel empty. Space planning has become a game of Tetris played with 24-foot spheres. The things we like most about coming to work are the hardest to do in a post-COVID, pre-vaccine world.

Even so: we got this. The whole office is remote, kids & pets crawling all over us, eyes crossed from Zoom, stuck at home for two months straight. And Kobo continues to do really well, with people healthy & surprisingly happy. That wasn’t guaranteed. At all.

We are fortunate that we can give our staff the choice to work remote for the rest of the year. It isn’t because we’re smarter. It’s just because of the kind of work we do. You can take a laptop home. A drill press, a lathe, a deep-fryer? Not so much.

Thanks to the adaptability and commitment of the Kobo staff, it seems like we have our COVID sea-legs. So no matter how slow the opening is, or if we go backwards at some point, we know how to do the hard part now.

It feels good to know we can keep doing our job — for the readers who have chosen us, and for the authors, publishers and retailers who are unwavering in their love of books and their mission to share them even in the face of so many challenges. It remains an honour and a pleasure.

We make reading lives better.

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